Emerging farmer breaks the mould

22 October 2010

While many young people move to the big city in pursuit fancy cars and designer wear, 29-year-old Gift Mafuleka is making the most of the opportunities afforded by public land reform initiatives and private sector support to breathe new life into a farm in Mpumalanga.

Mafuleka was given a chance to manage his own farm when he was given a five-year lease on a portion of Leeuwfontein farm near Bronkhorstspruit.

He also managed to secure funding, skills development and training support from local mining company SamQuarz and the local subsidiary of global food giant McCain.

‘We are farming together’

Leeuwfontein covers about 342 hectares and can be classified as a mixed-farming unit as it has the potential to support 60 hectares of irrigation, 70 hectares of arable land and a further seven hectares of intensive vegetable land, the remainder being grazing land.

At the entrance to the farm, a huge billboard with the words “Mphiwe Siyalima” greets visitors. Loosely translated, it means “using our given talents, we are farming together”.

When BuaNews visited Mafuleka, the farm workers were at a vegetable plot covered from head to toe in green overalls, seemingly oblivious to the sweltering heat as they watered cabbages and baby marrows.

A tractor, haymaker, trailer, boom sprayer, fertilizer spreader, and disc harrow stood at the farm workshop waiting to be used later in the day.

Mafuleka has employed 11 workers, all women. Five of them are earmarked to be employed permanently. He might be younger than his employees, their respect for each other is clear. Mavis Mahlangu, 36, said: “We enjoy working with him because he respects us and he always apologises when he is wrong.”

Her sentiments are echoed by Mamorena Serothola, a supervisor at the vegetable garden. “We don’t even pay attention to the fact that our boss is young because he treats us with much respect,” she said.

Always busy in the field

A loud sound pierces through the farm; it’s a modern canopy tractor with four women sitting on top of a huge trailer. They are all wearing sun hats to cover their faces from the sun.

Mafuleka jumps off the tractor, wearing khakhi shorts, a casual light blue shirt, brown socks and boots. He introduces himself and greets those near him. “There is no time to sit in the office, we are always busy in the field. Jump onto the tractor so that we can talk while I continue with my work,” he gestures.

Mafuleka’s tractor is one that many car owners would envy. It has roof-top air conditioners, a car stereo and two small speakers. He doesn’t play house or kwaito music, but switches to a local radio station to get his daily dose of the news.

“Look, I can plough, plant or harvest with a tractor,” said the young farmer, whose fancy toy seems to bring out the little boy in him. He’s driving to pick up a surplus of peas where he plans to plant sweet corn in the coming week.

According to the farm’s current crop production plan, Mphiwe Siyalima is to produce peas and sweet corn for McCain, cabbage and spinach for the local market, baby marrows for sale at the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market, and maize for the South African Futures Exchange (Safex).

Government land reform strategy

Mafuleka, who has a B.Tech degree in crop production, joined McCain Foods South Africa in 2006 as a crop manager and was based at Leeuwfontein farm. His break came a few years later when he discovered that the farm was for sale.

Determined to become a farmer, he approached Tim Hedges, a former colleague at McCain, to act as his mentor and adviser.

At that time, the farm was leased by McCain, so together with Hedges, Mafuleka developed a plan that finally saw him being granted a five-year lease by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

The government acquired the farm in November 2009 as part of its Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy, which aims to accelerate the land redistribution process and ensure maximum productive use of the acquired land.

The department has approved funding of over R1-million to be used to cover key production overhead expenses, most significantly the production and input costs of summer dry land crops.

The department has also given Mafuleka an option to renew the lease for a further five years.

Private sector support, skills development

SamQuarz, a silica mine located in the Delmas area, has committed to supporting Mafuleka by purchasing farming equipment and machinery to be used on the farm over a five-year period.

It has committed to investing R1.3-million during the first year of the farming project, and has agreed to evaluate the capital requirements from year two to year five of the project, with the potential of investing a further R2-million in the project.

Skills training, entrepreneurial development and job opportunities will be a key focus of this project, and SamQuarz will provide Mphiwe Siyalima with training in project management, financial management, safety management and legal support to ensure the success of the project.

McCain has purchased and installed a 30-hectare pivot valued at about R450 000 for the project. The equipment will be paid off, interest free, by Mphiwe Siyalima through the income generated by the delivery of peas and sweet corn to McCain over the five years.

McCain has also helped facilitate the opening of an Absa production bank account for Mphiwe Siyalima, while Hedges and Stuart Wortley (representing McCain) will ensure that grants from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and other monies, are correctly allocated and administered according to the business plan.

“This support will also enable Gift to build his confidence in managing the finances and other business aspects of the project, as well as establishing a good credit rating,” McCain said in a statement.

McCain will also make its well-developed agricultural and personal development training programmes available to Gift and his employees.

SAinfo reporter and BuaNews

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